The “S” Word


There are two things that can happen when you use a bad word in front of a child.  The first is the worst: the child hears this new word, and then goes around using it as much as they can, especially in the checkout line of the grocery store…

or when grandparents come over to visit.

The second thing that can happen is that the child recognizes that you’ve used the word and they decide to tell on you.  Unfortunately this doesn’t usually happen right when you say it.  The kid usually brings it up about 4 days later, when you’ve forgotten that you said it.

Last Christmas I used the “s-word” in front of my niece.

She’s almost 4.

We were enjoying a card game around the table at my parent’s house in California, when Sophia announced that, “Uncle Jon said the S-word.”  Of course everybody stared at me, and some stared harder than others.

Now to be honest, I have used the S-word during the course of my life, mostly regarding impending car accidents, but I was pretty sure that I hadn’t said it recently, especially not in front of Sophia.

I flatly denied having used the S-word. Sophia looked at me, pointed her finger, and whispered, “you did… on the phone.”

My mother went into the kitchen to find some soap.

Sophia’s mother, my sister, asked her to come over and whisper in her ear what word uncle Jon said.  She whispered into my sister’s ear and my sister said, “Well uncle Jon can say that word, but we don’t use it in our family.

My wife clarified that, “Uncle Jon can’t say that word in our family either.”

That’s when my sister winked at me and said that S-H-U-T, U-P, was the S-word in their family, because Sophia doesn’t know “the real S-Word”.  My mom walked back into the kitchen with the soap, she seemed a little disappointed.

I’m telling you this to highlight the cultural differences between my family and Sophia’s family. In my sister’s family you can’t say the word “shut up”,

It’s the “S-Word.”

In my family, you can say shut up, especially when your friend calls you on the cell phone to tell you that he just got tickets to the Laker game.  In my family the “S-word” isn’t shut up, it’s worse…

It’s “Celtics”.

When you travel from one culture to another you run into situations where standards are different.  What’s considered normal in one culture is often unwelcome in another.

Beyond this there is the difficulty that comes from believing that your culture is superior to another culture.  It would be easy for me to view my opinion about “Shut Up” being inoffensive as being better than my sister’s opinion that it actually is.

As I defend my belief that “Shut Up isn’t offensive”, I don’t do so from a moral perspective; I do so from the perspective of a 40 year-old man who spends very little time around mothers and their children. I do so from a relativistic perspective:

It isn’t broadly offensive to 40 year-old men.

 There are many more offensive words that begin with S.

However, If I’m not able to recognize that saying “shut up” in front of a 4 year-old makes it difficult for a mother to parent, then I’m actually saying that I believe my reference point (white/childless/male) is superior to that of my sisters.

That’s when I make it a moral issue… by identifying and demanding my “rights”.

I may have a right to say shut up, and believe that it isn’t immoral, but it creates a cultural divide that invalidates me as a trustworthy person.

Especially with mothers of young kids.

What does it look like when you are able to recognize that your relative cultural norms and preferences aren’t moral issues?  You say things like my sister said,

“Well uncle Jon can say that word, but we don’t use it in our family.

Maintaining that others have the right to their opinion, while reinforcing the values that you also have the right to maintain demonstrates your understanding that some cultural preferences, especially the ones not mentioned in scripture, are completely relative and based on preference.

Whether or not something is a clear moral issue isn’t always the best barometer of whether or not you should do or say something, especially when you are in a new setting.

Asking yourself if something is morally pure AND is relationally helpful for the parties involved is the responsibility of every person in every setting.

Doing this honors men, women, and children of all cultures, but above all it honors the God who created the humanity that lives in these cultures.

Even if it means abstaining from the innocent S-Words.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.  – I Corinthians 10:23-24

One Response to “The “S” Word”

  1. Debbie Z September 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    I loved this story when you shared it while preaching….and I enjoyed today your taking it a step further. Another great read! I so appreciate your perspective on culture, within our own, and globally!

Leave a Reply:

XHTML: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>